Physical training has been a habit for me for a long time now, but optimising it for mountain fitness is a reasonably new thing.
Random but pretty shot of Featherback
I've been lucky in some ways - I've had a pretty good basis in both aerobic activities (running, hiking) and strength training (climbing, gym workouts and gymnastics). I guess my fitness level is above average, but I rarely compare myself to others. What I do feel motivated by is the desire to climb and ski more every time I'm in the mountains. Training for ski mountaineering motivates me because it is one of the few activities that I have experienced where I want to keep going, but have felt like I have run out of steam at the end of some long days.
I've started tinkering with the ideas espoused by guys like Steve House and Mark Twight - becoming fit to the point where you are fit enough to achieve your goals whilst being hard to kill. That last bit refers to having the ability to persist through difficult periods and being able to function despite considerable fatigue and environmental duress.
One of the things that stands out in their assessment of uphill pursuits in the mountains is the need for a fundamentally strong aerobic base to one's fitness. In the past, I have probably trained too hard in an aerobic sense, which failed to properly train my aerobic fitness. That's not ideal, as most of the time I spend in the mountains is at a mid to low intensity of physical exertion. Unlike other activities and sports, ski mountaineering can go on for hours (or even a day or two) on end.
More like it - 140ish BPM
The Uphill Athlete program developed by Steve House reinforces the idea of having a strong and lasting aerobic base. This is by far the most important aspect of physical training - more important than strength or power endurance training.
In practice, it means that A LOT of my training is now done at a moderate heart rate - for me I try to stay between 130 and 140 BPM. Besides moderating exertion, the other defining feature is duration and volume - longer runs and hikes are better than short, intense sessions for building the aerobic base for big days in the mountains.
A typical week at the moment is:
Mon- Rest or minimal active recovery
Tue- Gym (general strength)
Wed-1.5 hour run
Thu- Smallish run or interval training
Fri- Gym (general strength)
Sat- 1.5 hour run (or shorter, interval-based running session)
Sun- Pack work / longer trail run
This is representative of a base phase, which is the major component of a training program for skimo.
I'll go into more detail about the core and strength programs another time. Or you could just buy this:
Interval training - 4min at aerobic threshold / 1min hard running (total of 6-8 intervals)
Pack work - water carries up hilly terrain (20+kg pack, staying near aerobic threshold)
Trail runs - emphasising hills, again staying at aerobic threshold (even if that means walking the hills at times)
A good session at Macedon - not amazingly fast, but all within the target HR zone with reasonable elevation gain
The less lengthy activity-specific phase (maybe 25% of the overall program) will reduce the gym time to one session a week, but increase the pack work and involve longer hikes and climbs. In essence, this is the stage of training where you beast yourself in the hills, and this was the phase that I probably inhabited too frequently in the past. It looks more like this:
Mon- Rest or minimal active recovery
Tue- Gym (specific strength training)
Wed-1.5 hour run
Thu- Gym (specific strength training) or lighter session
Fri- Smallish run or interval training
Sat- Longer run / ski tour (two to several hours)
Sun- Pack work / longer trail run / ski tour (two to several hours)
I'm thinking of dedicating 6 weeks to the general phase, 3 weeks to specific training and then a week of tapering into my trips away. I'll make sure that each week builds on the previous in terms of total hours training, along with the duration and difficulty of activities.
After that, a period of tapering leads into the season/objective/activity that was the goal of the training program.
For the forthcoming year, it looks like I'll be hitting these areas:
January - Furano, Hokkaido
April - Hakuba
July - local skiing / possible short trip to NZ?
Sep - spring skiing in Oz (Feathertop/Bogong/Main Range)
NutritionThis aspect of mountain athleticism is currently being complicated by some suspected food allergies - I seem to have developed some food intolerances, and am still in the process of discovering what my body is happy with. I'll try and keep things general rather than fixating on my individual circumstances.
This refers to the (typically two) meals a day where you aren't on the move - breakfast and dinner.
I've been having muesli and water recently, but that may be changing (food allergy perchance?) I'm partial to wraps at home (egg, sweet potato, bean and avocado), but they aren't that practical in the mountains on multi-day trips. So for now, a solid serving of muesli gets me fueled for a skiing and climbing.
I also like to start the day with some Hydralite (sports drink powder), just to help counteract the effects of fluid loss. I usually leave camp with half a liter of water, and half a liter of sports drink. In spring I plan my routes to drop into creek lines when I need more fluid; in winter I either suck it up and go without replenishment, or would consider taking a stove (which could add nearly a kilo to my pack).
Individual sachets are the way forward
After a big day, I like to have some kid of food as soon as I get back, along with some more sports drink. I've been having bean salads, which are great, but pretty much anything quick and easy with carbs and protein is good. For dinner, I like a good mix of carbs, fat and protein. My favorite dish has been wholemeal pasta, a sachet of tomato paste, a tin of tuna/salmon and a bit of cheese melted in. A bit of dark chocolate goes well for desert.
This has worked great for me so far, but for longer trips I'll need some more variety!
Touring FoodThis is the fuel that goes in during the day - it needs to be easily consumable, light, convenient and tasty.
I head out for a day with the following:
2 x OSM bars
2-3 x museli bars
Soy crisp mix or fruit and nut mix
2 x energy gels
Highly recommended (and from NZ); the One Square Meal bars
I don't always find the time to consume it all, but I find eating regularly is vital during the day. I'm pretty much climbing 90% of the day, as the descents don't take very long compared to the climbs. I have found eating at the bottom of a descent suits me, as I usually like to start skiing down reasonably soon after getting up top (often it's too windy and cold to sit around comfortably)
New Skis - Salomon Minim
These arrived from Germany the other day, and straight away their light weight was perceptible - the box they arrived in felt empty! They weigh in at 740g each, which is ridiculously light.
There are no obvious bells and whistles here. Outwardly, these are simply shaped and designed skis, but what differentiates them from other skimo race skis is the few extra mills under foot, which is said to enhance performance considerably. Paired with my Syborgs and a bastardised Yak/SCTT binding, the entire setup will tip the scales at 3.83kg...that's both skis, both boots and bindings.
I won't know how they ski until that first descent, but the ethos they embody is one that I am all about: maximum freedom of movement in the mountainous environment. More distance covered, more turns made, more lines skied - that's my version of living the dream. Killian thinks so too...
I'm seeing the Minim as being ideal for much of the Australian season - we don't have a deep snowpack most of the time, and they look like they'll handle icy conditions just fine. Also, I plan on doing much more 'resort uphilling' next year in bad weather, both to save money and for fitness training. The other role for these skis will be in true ski mountaineering, where there could be some long distance travel or technical climbing to be done, and I'll willingly trade some stability and performance on the down for the freedom of movement on the way up.
And as an added bonus, their lightweight means that they can sneak into the ski bag for Japan and get a good field test before the southern winter next year (if their skins arrive in time from Europe, that is!)
There's much to love about Japan, including the wide range of quality gear that their stores have. I'll mostly be browsing without buying (famous last words), although with a favorable Yen exchange rate, there are a few things I'll be keeping an eye out for:
- Atomic Backland 85 Ultralight ski (discussed before)
- Some quality running shorts (North Face Better than Naked, Patagonia Strider Pro or Dynafit options)
- Ultimate Direction Skimo 28 pack (28 liter pack with heaps of versatility, weighing in at 580g)
Attachments for 2x ice tools and A-frame or diagonal ski carry
Speaking of Japan, it'll be exciting to be in Hokkaido for the first time. The terrain and snowpack look fantastic already, and it will just be a matter of managing avalanche risk and weather to achieve some quality time in the mountains.